OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The surge in COVID-19 cases in Nebraska has led to record-high hospitalizations that are straining the state's health care system, officials said Monday.

The number of people hospitalized in the state with the coronavirus set another record on Sunday, with 613, which was one more than the previous day. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 have surged over the last month, according to the state’s online tracking portal.

“We have seen a doubling of COVID positive patients in the last several weeks. No doubt if this trend continues — not just at our hospitals — but every hospital in the state could be at capacity in a very short period of time,” Dr. Cary Ward, chief medical officer for CHI Health’s network of 14 hospitals across eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, said during a video call with reporters.

Nebraska's largest hospitals have started limiting elective surgeries as they work to cope with the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, which is expected to continue because cases of the virus are still rising, said Dr. Bill Lydiatt, the chief medical officer for Methodist Health System’s two hospitals in Omaha. The number of confirmed cases increased by 934 on Sunday in Nebraska, which has the seventh-highest rate of new cases in the nation.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska increased over the past two weeks from about 778 new cases per day on Oct. 18 to roughly 1,074 new cases per day on Sunday.

Ensuring that hospitals have enough nurses and doctors to care for the COVID patients is key. Nebraska hospitals are working to bring in nurses from other parts of the country to help.

“We can manage a significant surge in COVID-19 patients. However we cannot produce unlimited hospital capacity,” Lydiatt said.

Also Monday, state officials said Nebraska's nursing homes and other long-term care facilities will get a temporary financial boost to help cover the cost of dealing with the pandemic.

The state will increase its Medicaid reimbursement for care facilities by an extra $20 per day for each eligible resident, using a combination of $25 million in federal money and $15 million from the state. The cost of caring for long-term care residents varies widely throughout Nebraska, but the average is around $200, so the extra money would amount to about a 10% increase, health officials said.

Nebraska's long-term care facilities have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, with residents accounting for about 36% of the state's overall virus deaths. The virus has infected 1,774 long-term care residents and 1,832 staff members since the pandemic began, and 238 residents have died, according to state health officials.

“This financial aid could not have come at a better time,” said Heath Boddy, president and CEO of the Nebraska Health Care Association.

Boddy said care facilities will likely use the money to cover earlier pandemic-related expenses, and possibly offer retention and recruitment bonuses to help with staffing shortages. The assistance will apply retroactively to costs incurred from May 1 and will continue until the end of this year.

Nebraska has had 71,666 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 654 deaths from the disease since the pandemic began.


Schulte reported from Lincoln.